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SWBTS opens German extension center to train future leaders

BORNHEIM, Germany (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and Executive Vice President and Provost Craig Blaising joined more than 1,000 German Baptists, Anabaptists and Mennonites in Bornheim, Germany, Oct. 3 to inaugurate the first semester of Southwestern’s extension center in nearby Bonn.

The inauguration included a formal announcement of Southwestern’s master of arts in theology degree program on the campus of Bibelseminar in Bonn. The program offers a concentration in pastoral ministry.

Bibelseminar was founded by ethnic Germans who migrated back to West Germany from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Due to cultural and theological differences with indigenous German denominations, these Baptist, Anabaptist and Mennonite immigrants planted their own churches. Bibelseminar was established to train pastors and missionaries, offering an undergraduate education in biblical studies.

Southwestern Seminary partnered with Bibelseminar to implement a program for post-graduate studies. The first class at Southwestern’s extension center entails eight men who recently completed their studies at Bibelseminar.

Bibelseminar director Heinrich Derksen said the new master’s degree program is an important development in training future leaders of Baptist and Mennonite churches at an advanced level. The need for trained leaders is great among the 100,000-plus Baptists in Germany.

At the convocation services, Blaising introduced the Bonn center’s two fulltime resident faculty members, Friedhelm Jung and Helmuth Pehlke.

Jung is professor of systematic theology and director of the master’s degree program. He has served as a professor at Bibelseminar and as a pastor of First Baptist Church in Bornheim. He earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Marburg.

Pehlke is professor of Old Testament. He served as a chair at the Freie Theologische Akademie in Geissen, Germany, for more than 20 years. He earned the master of theology and doctor of theology degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Both men signed Southwestern Seminary’s book of confessional heritage, confirming their agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

Greg Kingry, vice president of business affairs at Southwestern Seminary, said that signing a religious confession of faith was a new experience for the supporters of Bibelseminar. Therefore, the overflow audience listened intently when President Patterson explained the development and meaning of the Baptist Faith and Message. Jung and Pehlke publicly examined the confession of faith before signing.

“There was a sense that when they signed this, there really was a respect for what they were doing,” Kingry said. “It became something to them that was significant; it wasn’t just a matter of signing a document and becoming a faculty member.”

Patterson, Blaising and Kingry were encouraged by the faith of the German believers.

“They are strong in their foundational beliefs and their core orthodoxy,” Kingry said. “And they’re evangelical…. It’s not a stale faith at all. It’s very much alive.”

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  • Benjamin Hawkins